A Naval Brush With Fame…



Apparently, Navy Lieut. John Kerry and I passed each other, like ships in the night, as a part of several 120 man companies during SERE (“Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape”) training at the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base and Warner Hot Springs in the summer of 1968.

Not surprisingly, I have no recollection of Kerry, as we were all wearing the same green gear.

Nor he of me, I’m quite sure.

In any event, I may have spent more time as a patient in the Navy hospital in Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam than Kerry actually spent in Vietnam.

 But I digress. (And perhaps, exaggerate).


A much more memorable “brush with fame” was my brief acquaintance with Boatswain Mate 2nd class Tommy Barnes during the weapons training cycle at the Horno Range of Camp Pendleton.

Barnes was the coxswain of a naval landing craft (“LCM 6 or 8”) during the Bay of Pigs Invasion in August 1961, delivering anti-Castro Cuban Freedom Fighters  onto a Cuban beach in an attempt to overthrow the duplicitous and evil communist dictator, Fidel Castro.

If you are too young to recall the incident, I’m attaching the following link.


Barnes told me that he drove his boat while dressed in civilian clothing and he carried no documentation that would identify him  as a member of  the United States Navy or any part of the Armed Forces of the United States.

Sadly, another former naval officer, Pres. John F. Kennedy, flinched at the last moment and refused to allow a promised and necessary flight of B-25 bombers to provide air support for the invasion. Their 8 nose-mounted .50 caliber machine guns would’ve made a huge difference in the outcome.

But I digress again.

As a result, Cuban tanks overlooking the beach were able to wreak havoc on the assault, which ultimately failed and most of the anti-Communist Freedom Fighters were captured and many were executed, while some were merely tortured and imprisoned.

Barnes further told me that his LCM 8 was struck by a shell and sunk as a result, so he he jumped off his sinking vessel, ran down the beach and jumped on the last surviving LCM to get  off the beach, thus avoiding capture.

In keeping with his “devil-may-care” veteran’s attitude, on the night of September 08, 1968, we were all waiting for our flight out of  Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino for our Flying Tiger “stretch” DC 8 charter to Vietnam,

a seriously inebriated Barnes repeatedly told my mother, to her utter dismay, what a great machine gunner he had  observed that I was during our weapons training phase at Camp Pendleton and that he would be proud to have me be a part of his crew.

I cautioned Barnes that he was scaring my tiny little widowed mother and was also beginning to frighten me, as well.

Needless to say, years later, something on the news will remind me of BM2 Barnes and my brief brush with an important part of American history.

Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.

Unless you’re Fidel Castro. 

Hasn’t Fidel arrived in Hell yet?

But I digress, yet again.


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